Keith Jackson laid down the soundtrack to Saturday for a generation of college football fans with phrases such as his signature “Whoa, Nelly!” From the World Series to the Olympics, NFL to NBA, he did it all over five decades as a sportscaster, but most appropriately his final assignment before retiring 12 years ago was one of the greatest college football games ever.
Jackson died Friday. He was 89.
A statement by ESPN, which consolidated with ABC Sports, Jackson’s longtime employer, announced his death Saturday. No cause was given. He was a longtime resident of Sherman Oaks, California, and died near his home there.
A native of west Georgia, near the Alabama border, his smooth baritone voice and use of phrases like “big uglies” for linemen gave his game calls a familiar feel.
“He was one of our giants,” longtime broadcaster Brent Musburger told The Associated Press. “He could do anything and loved doing it.”
Jackson might be best known for his “Whoa, Nelly!” exclamation, but he didn’t overuse it. Borrowed from his great-grandfather, a farmer, the phrase also part of a commercial Jackson did for Miller Lite in the mid-’90s. But it was no catchphrase.
“He never made anything up,” Musburger said. “That’s how Keith talked.”
In a Fox Sports interview in 2013, Jackson said his folksy language stemmed from his rural upbringing and he became comfortable with the usage through the years.
“I would go around and pluck things off the bush and see if I could find a different way to say some things. And the older I got the more willing I was to go back into the Southern vernacular because some of it’s funny,” Jackson said.
ESPN “College GameDay” host Rece Davis, who grew up in Alabama, said listening to Jackson assured him that it was OK for a national broadcaster to sound Southern.
“Some people become the voice of the sport through their expertise, which Keith certainly had. But it’s almost as if the good Lord created that voice, which sounds like what red clay ought to sound like if it could talk, to be the perfect voice for college football,” Davis told the…